Here’s what you can do with the basement of a department store when you put some imagination into it. In a project led by the charity Creative Youth and supported by Kingston Council, John Lewis and the Mayor of London, a 750m2 venue has opened on the Thames riverside following a seven-month renovation project. Kingston University, Kingston College and Kingston Council are also working in partnership with the centre and more local groups are expected to come on board.
It is not only a platform for artistic expression but also for collaboration and co-creation
FUSEBOX was named by Creative Youth’s board of Young Creatives and others whose annual festival of performance, formerly the International Youth Arts Festival, now branded as FUSE International. It hopes to become a social hub that will host performances and exhibitions while providing spaces for rehearsals, social events and multidisciplinary and collaborative creativity across the arts. Located in the sprawling undercroft of the John Lewis department store, which is situated across the road, it faces onto the river over three floors with an outdoor terrace that will be a cafe/bar area that can also accommodate open-air performances.
The entrance ramp follows the line of the first bridge to cross to the Thames at this point, some 30 metres downstream from the current bridge opened in 1828. Within the walls of FUSEBOX, however, are the footings of the original 12th century bridge and also the remains of a mediaeval cellar around which parts of the venue have been configured. The town had been of considerable importance from Saxon times. Records from 838 refer to it as Cyninges tun, but its name changed with the language; thus it became Chingestune in 1086, Kingeston in 1164, Kyngeston super Tamisiam in 1321 and Kingestowne upon Thames in 1589. These names all refer to its being the king's manor or estate. It marked the boundary between the Kingdoms of Wessex and Murcia until their unification in 918 and witnessed the coronations of Æthelstan (925), and Æthelred the Unready (978) and became the earliest royal borough. The construction of a bridge served to further its status as a market town, placing it on what became an important north-south crossing. (Thanks Wikipedia)
Thus FUSEBOX is literally rooted in the history of the Borough, which alone should give inspiration to writers and other artists. Now it aspires to be a ‘new cultural centre for the area, its young people and communities’ that will ‘support the regeneration of the area and drive employment and training opportunities’. In the current pilot season there are already two free exhibitions. LABELS: Black Mental Health and Me, by former Creative Talent Programme artist Chiyana Ankhrah, is a photographic documentary that focuses on anecdotal experiences of four Black British men and women who are currently dealing with or have dealt with mental illness. Tanvi Ranjan, meanwhile, has incorporated four pieces from her studio into the ancient cellar. These explore the role of women and the human/machine interface between the techniques of textile making and the digital and information age. Commenting on the venue Ranjan referred to it as a "one-of-a-kind space” and went on to say, “I am excited to use FUSEBOX for my creative practice and to connect with other artists. Its heritage backing would elevate the experience of the art that is produced, performed, and exhibited here. It is not only a platform for artistic expression but also for collaboration and co-creation. I am confident that FUSEBOX will bring together many artists and build a community that can grow within various art forms”.
Each of these exhibitions highlights the flexibility of the space and how with high-quality adaptable lighting works can find an appropriate setting and be shown to advantage. Displays such as these demonstrate how areas within the space can be used and with walls from two major historical periods, there is plenty to stimulate the imagination for creative projects. Performing arts events are also underway, with Creative Sparks, a regular Friday evening scratch night that offers a chance to see a selection of new performances in their early stages of creation.
Speaking on the opening FUSEBOX, Creative Youth’s Chair, Robin Hutchinson MBE said, “It has been a dream for Creative Youth to have a home to support young talent to explore and develop their cultural ideas and practices. FUSEBOX gives us that opportunity in a remarkable new space that will be a playground for the imagination”. Andreas Kirsch, leader of Kingston Council said, “I am thrilled to see FUSEBOX opening. This is an amazing project, which will bring people together, giving them a space to be creative, to explore, and to enjoy. It will be a wonderful addition to Kingston’s great cultural offer.”
The next FUSE International will take place from 30 June – 9 July 2023; ‘connecting the different artforms: Dance, Music, Theatre, Comedy, Film, Visual Art; connecting the age group 5- 26; connecting the young people of this island to the rest of the world’. In the meantime there is an ongoing programme of activities and the space is available for readings, rehearsals, photo-shooots and social events. Like Creative Youth itself, it ‘exists to enable young people to realise their potential through the arts, involving them in innovative, original and ambitious projects’.
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